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Student with laptop
Jose Escobar holds his laptop in Brighton, Mass., on May 21, 2020. The laptop given to him by his school for remote online learning does not work. (Photo by Suzanne Kreiter/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

Parents say schools have reported them to child services for neglect if their kids miss online class


Some parents in Massachusetts told the Boston Globe they were reported to the state's Department of Children and Families for neglect when their children were absent from remote learning sessions too often in the spring, when they were scrambling to adjust to the new realities of COVID-19.

What happened? When schools around the country closed in March and April, parents were forced to figure out a way to facilitate and assist with online learning for their children while working or taking care of other responsibilities. The schools, in many cases, failed to provide a well-coordinated learning plan for the lockdowns.

Still, dozens of parents interviewed by the Globe say schools reported them for potential neglect because of absences, without regard for the obvious difficulties of the situation. From the Globe:

Massachusetts school officials have reported dozens of families to state social workers for possible neglect charges because of issues related to their children's participation in remote learning classes during the pandemic shutdown in the spring, according to interviews with parents, advocates, and reviews of documents.

In most cases, lawyers and family advocates said, the referrals were made solely because students failed to log into class repeatedly. Most of the parents reported were mothers, and several did not have any previous involvement with social services.

The Globe report cites cases where absences were the result of parents not getting information about how to access the necessary technology, or parents who reached out to the school for assistance in balancing the situation and were not given any help.

In one case, a mother of special-needs children was subjected to a three-week DCF investigation and a visit from a police officer after her autistic 6-year-old son jumped naked into view of the camera while another child was participating in online class. DCF told the mother, Christi Brouder, that the school had reported an adult man exposing himself on camera. The case was eventually dropped, but Brouder told the Globe that now her daughter doesn't want to log in to online class for fear of the family getting in trouble.

If charges of neglect are upheld by DCF, parents could be at risk of having their children removed from their homes. In most of the cases cited by the Globe, DCF rather quickly found no signs of neglect after review.

What do the schools say? The school districts in question told the Globe that reports to DCF are not made solely on the basis of absences, but due to patterns of troubling behavior or circumstances observed during online learning. However, they would not comment on the specifics of the cases cited.

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